Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Dan Reed
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Big crowd at pipeline hearing


A crowd estimated at more than 500 packed into the Duluth Downtown Holiday Inn ballroom to testify at a certificate of need hearing organized by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC). About 360 signed up to testify in support and 120 against. Not everyone got to speak.

The hearing on January 6 was set up for three 90-minute sessions. The week was to be filled with hearings from Duluth, Bemidji, Crookston, St. Paul River Centre and St. Cloud. Testimony alternated from favored to not favored.

Judge Litman, who oversaw the hearing as court reporters typed out a transcript of the proceeding, opened each new presentation to be heard by asking the person to spell their name for the record and then asked, "What do you have to tell us?" Each testimony was allotted four minutes.

Emotions ran high at times. Christopher LaForge, owner of Great Northern Solar, started his testimony with comments including, "This pipeline project is an example of extreme energy exploitation by major corporations." His voice boomed into the microphone. Finally, Judge Litman reminded LaForge, "This is not the time for a loud emotional response." LaForge pressed on saying he wanted to use his four minutes and summed up his feelings by loudly saying, "Sandpiper has the distinction of being the fuse that will light the ecological bomb that will doom humanity."

Of others in opposition, John Munter, a global activist since 1984, insisted this pipeline and fossil fuels would be "genocidal, catastrophic from the global warming."

Michael Dahl, a native Ojibway, worried about the wild rice crop in northern Minnesota, which produces 50 percent of the world's wild rice.

Lots of union jackets and caps were scattered throughout the crowd. Testimony came in for jobs, not only construction, but maintenance jobs — repeating the line "creating good jobs." Larry Anderson of Esko, a member of the Laborers union, testified, "I grew up in Floodwood and lived with a pipeline behind my house on the farm for 18 years. You didn't even know it was there. The only marking was a post with a sign that said, 'In event of trouble please call this phone number.'"

Anderson went on to say, "I am in favor of the pipeline and hope alternative fuels come sooner rather than later. I have worked construction my whole life. I work on one job until it is finished and then move on to another one. I am one of those temporary construction jobs that has spent a lifetime doing it."

Nancy Norr, director of Regional Power for Minnesota Power, explained, "This is a time of transition where we are working hard to change our source of power. I call for a balance to our energy needs centering on affordability and reliability. The pipeline will take a burden off our railroad infrastructure so that needed products such as coal are delivered on schedule."

During one break in the testimony, one group of listeners spoke of the huge increase in grain trucks on the highways moving grain from the Dakotas. Railroad cars are not available due to oil shipments. The small group wondered how dangerous the highways will get with the large numbers of grain trucks using them.

Mayors from the Iron Range and numerous county officials attended. Richard Courtemanche, assistant Aitkin County land commissioner, talked of the tax impact on Aitkin County, which he said was "one of the poorest counties in the state." Three million to 4 million dollars in tax income would flow to Aitkin County government. He explained, "One half of our land is held by private landowners and the other half is tax-forfeit lands managed by the county or state of Minnesota, lands neither of which support the property taxes collected."

When asked via phone interview what he thought of the hearing, Courtemanche replied, "There are strong feelings on both sides of the pipeline issue."


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